Our interlocutor, an Albanian from the village of Hodonovce, answered the questions of our associate in Kamenica in the summer of 2021 soberly and moderately. In the context of inter-ethnic relations, he insists on direct contact between people and believes that these relations are better in communities in which two ethnic groups lived in mixed communities. According to him, this leads to learning the other group’s language and to a more intense coexistence. He states that the Serbs from Hodonovac protected their Albanian neighbours from paramilitary Serbian units in the incidents during the war. The Serbs were openly invited to reveal the names of the Albanians who should be executed because, in the words of one paramilitary forces member: “Now is your chance to take revenge”. The Serbs, however, vouched for the respectability of their neighbours and did not allow anything to happen to them. The interlocutor also mentioned a positive example of a doctor from Belgrade who helped many Albanians get referrals for medical treatment in Belgrade in the period after the war in Kosovo.

Q: Hello. How are you?

A: Fine, fine.

Q: We are now starting the interview. First of all, please tell us your name.

A: [The editors of the portal decided to hide the identities of the interlocutors].

Q: Thank you very much. Q: Place and date of birth?

A: dd.mm.1961. Hodonovci.

Q: Place of residence?

A: Kamenica.

Q: Did you have friends from the Serbian ethnic community in Kosovo before? How about now?

A: This “now” as the question is formulated, I would also add it for the past, not only for now, because at this time and in these years it is normal that we had contacts. If you live in a multi-ethnic community, you have direct contact. Of course, you make different connections, social networks, economic cooperation connections or in some other form, so you like that environment, the very nature of social life, because you have to cooperate in a mixed setting. You cannot live apart and isolated from others, and when you live together, you know each other better – I mean direct acquaintance, not indirect through literature, but acquaintance from life experience. It is life that gives you the possibility of direct acquaintance.

Q: How close are you to them and do you understand the Serbian language?

A: Yes, of course. In a mixed setting, we usually learn each other’s language well. Those who learned it at school, for example…

Q: Do you understand the Serbian language?

A: Of course, of course. I know, and in school…

Q: And surely you also have friends or you are close to them socially?

A: Yes, yes.

Q: Did you socialise regularly, for example, making family visits, visits during religious Catholic and Orthodox holidays to your Serb neighbours/colleagues before, during and after the conflict in Kosovo?

A: Earlier, before the war, we were invited or visited our neighbours who lived in our village, however, after the war I can’t say that…they didn’t come…I can’t say that after the war we continued with those visits.

Q: So, not after the war?

A: No, after the war we didn’t.

Q: Did you cooperate and did you regularly cooperate by helping each other, say, in farming, repairs in the house or in factories, with your local Serb neighbours before the war, during and after the war?

A: It’s a broad topic. So, those who were engaged in farming naturally helped each other, whether it was…

Q: Did you help? Did you have an opportunity?

A: There were opportunities. There were cases of our neighbours who took machines, they borrowed them from each other, that is, farming tools, for example, when someone needed a scythe or a tractor, there were cases where they helped each other. They needed help so they helped…

Q: Were there any such cases during the war? Do you remember? Maybe less often?

A: During the war, passivism prevailed as far as cooperation was concerned. So, we can only know that… there were cases when they cooperated, but those cases were minor and limited.

Q: And as for after the war, do you know of any case…was there any case  that you cooperated with each other, in terms of helping each other? At home? In farming? Maybe regarding some farming tool?

A: We, like them, gave up agriculture. Theirs, as well as our youths, are not interested in farming, therefore no one needs help because no one likes farming. Neither the Serbs, nor the Albanians… they no longer engage in farming as they did before, although back then, perhaps with simpler tools, they still cultivated the land in the way they could.

Q: Did anything change in your relations with your neighbours/fellow Serbs after Slobodan Milošević came to power in 1987, until 1999, and until today? Have your relations changed?

A: Relations…

Q: Neighbourly relations?

A: Relations between citizens… When we talk about our municipality, relations between citizens have not changed much. The government’s relationship with the Albanians did change.

Q: Authorities? Yes.

A: Not citizens.

Q: OK. Have you had a case…have they changed, so to say…because the citizens themselves also changed.

A: Especially citizens who were in organisations as leaders, in order to demonstrate their loyalty to the government, they changed their views towards comrades, former comrades, friends, etc. They were reserved. However, there were also those who did not change at all.

Q: How important do you think ethnicity was, that is, the fact that you were a Serb or an Albanian in the society before the war, during the war and after the war? What do you think? Was it better to be a Serb or an Albanian before the war or the vice versa?

A: If we do… Here it is necessary to do a multidimensional analysis. If we are talking about the time when the former Yugoslavia existed, which represented the continuation of the concept of self-government at that time, there wasn’t much difference as far as nationality was concerned. However, after Milošević came to power, the dimension changed. After that, it was better if you were a Serb. However, after the war… also, we now have a change again when it was better to be Albanian, which is very normal because things changed.

Q: Are you aware of any case of inter-ethnic marriage between Serbs and Albanians before the war, during the war and after the war?

A: Such things did not happen in our municipality.

Q: There have been no such cases in your community?

A: No, no, there weren’t.

Q: Are you familiar with any cases where Albanian and Serbian youth socialise or meet today?

A: Yes, yes.

Q: Are there any such cases?

A: In inns… All inns in Kamenica are visited by Serbs, but Serbian inns are also visited by Albanians and there are no problems between them due to different nationalities.

Q: Can you give us an example of support or mutual assistance provided to you by someone from the Serbian community? Do you remember a specific case when someone from the Serbian community helped you?

A: Not to me, but I have heard, there is evidence that doctors helped Albanian patients go to Belgrade for treatment. I helped them, through my connections. For example, a doctor from Belgrade who was in Kamenica, immediately after the war, she helped a large number of Albanians. With her help, many Albanians… she helped patients go to Belgrade for treatment.

Q: Do you remember any assistance that was provided to you personally?

A: I have not had such cases.

Q: What was the attitude of the Serbian authorities, the police, the civil authorities, the army, towards the Albanian population during the 1999 war? What was their attitude towards Albanians in general or towards the people during the 1999 war?

A: Now, we have pause here. The attitude was not the same in places where there was fighting and in places which were much more peaceful. Kamenica was a bit calmer. Not a little but much more peaceful, that’s why the authorities, police and military authorities were more limited because that region was more peaceful. In other places, of course, it was harsher, more violent, more brutal.

Q: What was the attitude of your neighbours who belonged to the Serbian community at that time? Did they have any other attitude, not to say hostile, aggressive or that type of attitude?

A: Attitude towards…

Q: The attitude of your Serbian neighbours.

A: During the war, they were more quiet. So, as neighbours, they were more quiet, but they did not cause damage where they lived. They say that they caused damage in other places, but not to their neighbours.

Q: Were there any cases where they tried to protect you, to provide you with food or other supplies during the war?

A: There have been cases.

Q: Do you remember any instance when they provided protection to you or provided you with food at some point?

A: I know of one case when the army and the police were stationed in the village of Hodonovce in the community of Kršljane, and they were asked, “now is your chance…”

Q: Was Kršljani a community inhabited by Serbs?

A: The community in Hodonovac, yes.

Q: OK.

A: So: “Now is your chance to take your revenge. Just give us the names and we will execute them”. They replied: “We’ve always gotten along well and there’s no need…we don’t have anyone on the list.” That’s why the brutality was very limited because if they wanted to… they told them: “Now you have a historic opportunity to take revenge, this is a historic opportunity, just say it”, however they had no accusations. They didn’t have any. They could, for example…

Q: What was the treatment of the local Serbs in the post-war period, in the summer and fall of 1999? That is, how were the Serbs treated after the entry of NATO, the KLA? Were they treated differently? How did you see it from your perspective?

A: You see, it was…from an emotional point of view, they experienced it as a defeat, while the Albanians gained freedom and the perception of the same period was different. Everyone experienced it in their own way. The Serbs experienced that time as a loss – insecurity would enter their lives, etc. Albanians would take revenge on them for everything their government has done. The Albanians, however, experienced that time as freedom, and this is where the difference lies, that the same thing was not understood in the same way. The two sides did not perceive the same situation in the same way.

Q: How did you experience the beginning of violence against Kosovo Serbs in March 2004? Were you a participant…I mean, not a participant, but were you a part of…did you notice these events?

A: It was a punishable act, an inappropriate, reckless act. It was a stupid thing that should not have happened because, during the entire Albanian history,  places of worship, not only Serbian ones, but also places of worships of all nations, were respected. Regardless of whether they were Jewish or those belonging to other religions. Albanians were always in awe of holy places, they feared that something bad would happen to them. They never touched them. However, for that to happen at that time…it was a moment of weakness, a very harmful moment for us Albanians, for our ethos, for our country, etc.

Q: Did the Albanian neighbours try to protect them when they were in danger? Did the Albanian neighbours try to protect the Serbs at that time when they were in danger, when a huge mass of people held violent protests? Was there any case that you know of where they were protected?

A: Yes, of course. Of course. Every neighbour wanted his neighbour not to get hurt, wanted nothing bad to happen to him because there was no reason for someone who was innocent to be hurt. So they wanted for them not to be attacked by hooligans, etc. because they didn’t do anything wrong and it wouldn’t be moral for the neighbour to remain silent in such situations.

Q: Did you experience violence or property damage during the war? I mean the time during the war. How did your neighbours react?

A: No, I didn’t.

Q: How do you remember socialism?

A: It is a very broad topic to assess this period, but…

Q: In short, was it good…

A: What was good about socialism was that education was free, social security, pension insurance…that was…and the education was of very high quality, not just education, it was quality education, and that made socialism…there was a lot of focus on the social life of citizens. That was something that was good in socialism. That was…

Q: Do you consider the socialist era positive and affirmative as far as the development of Kosovo is concerned?

A: This is how I connect things: If there had been no socialism, the king would have returned from England. There would have been a kingdom, and we all know what attitude the kingdom had towards the Albanians. Therefore, with all the ups and downs, the problems and the dark periods, socialism was better for the development and affirmation of Kosovo.

Q: Thank you very much for the interview, Mr. Selim, and thank you for taking the time to participate in this interview. Thank you very much once again.

A: Thank you, too. I wish you success and that the project proceed in the most objective and best possible way and that you see the results and views of citizens regarding the issues that interested you as soon as possible.

Q: Thank you again.


Image courtesy of aleksandarmiletic | MALI VELIKI LJUDI

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